By Mike Ridaught
Tonight at the Purple Palace it’s Part 2 of Gainesville-Vanguard (Ocala) boys’ basketball, as the visiting Knights look to sweep the regular season series and secure home court advantage in February.
At stake is the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Class 7A-District 4 tournament (Feb. 7). The top seed will host the district tournament.
It’s been quite the rivalry, particularly over the past year.
Last year, GHS (14-2 overall & 6-0 in the district at the time) lost at Vanguard, 70-57, denying Hurricanes’ coach Kelly Beckham his 700th career victory at the time. However, Gainesville secured the top seed and was able to host the Knights in the postseason.
Gainesville rallied from a 20-point deficit in the district championship game to win at home, 52-49. The ‘Canes trailed by 12 points entering the final quarter.
Then, in the second round of the 6A regional playoffs, Gainesville defeated Vanguard at the Purple Palace on a shot by Rudy Bibb-Boyd with five seconds to play in overtime for an 85-83 win.
This is what happened the last time these teams played back on December 9.
The three by senior Quez Clayton, who led the team in scoring last year and has taken over the leadership role following the loss of PG Phil Ortiz for the year, sent the game into overtime. The Knights won the game in OT as Ortiz and Clayton combined for eight of the Knights’ 10 points in the extra period in a 67-60 win.
Ortiz was lost against Lakeland at the Kingdom of the Sun back in December. Back-up PG Jalen Scott has been out since the first week of January.
“Jalen is still not back, but could possibly be cleared by tomorrow (tonight),” said Vanguard coach Phillip Small. “If he is cleared, he probably will not start nor will he get starters minutes, but we do intend to work him back in, increasing his minutes each game leading up to the district tournament.”
According to Small, Clayton is “battling flu-like symptoms and has been for several days.” However, he scored 28 points against Dunnellon on Saturday and 20 against Columbia (Lake City) on Tuesday, “so he is battling.”
The Knights have also been battling. They haven’t been at full strength and hit a stretch where they lost three of four games – at North Marion (1/13), at Santa Fe (1/17), and vs. Buchholz (Gainesville) on Jan. 18.
However, Vanguard (15-5, 7-0) is still unbeaten in district play and has defeated league foes Forest (Ocala) & Columbia the past two games by 22 and 13 points, respectively.
“We should be full strength other than Ortiz, if Jalen is cleared,” noted Small.
Meanwhile, Gainesville hasn’t lost since December. The Purple Hurricanes (18-2, 6-1) have won 10 straight entering tonight’s game.
The Purple Hurricanes are coming off a 58-38 win at Forest on Tuesday, keeping their hopes alive for the No. 1 seed in the district. If GHS wins, a coin flip will determine the top seed.
In the win against the Wildcats, junior Christian Miller-Cardwell led all scorers with 23 points in being named our Sonic Player-of-the-Game, scoring 12 in the second quarter, and making three 3-pointers in the game. Junior guard Dallas Tealer and senior Kaijon Scott each scored 10 points
The ‘Canes have their own challenges regarding injuries, but the good news is senior forward Micaiah Lacroix is back, giving GHS another experienced player on the floor.
Gainesville, which lost in the regional finals last year, is looking for a return trip to FHSAA state finals in Lakeland. They are currently ranked 4th in the state in 7A, according to MaxPreps.
Event Details: Tip – 7:30 p.m. Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m. Join Marty Pallman (Play-by-play) and Tyler TenBieg (Color) for this Class 7A-District 4 showdown between Alachua & Marion County. The game will also air on 92.1 FM & 1230 AM in Gainesville and 100.1 FM & 900 AM in Ocala.
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